Monday, November 13, 2006

When the medium fails

"Impressions," TV Times, 31 July-6 August 1977


The tempting prospect of seeing Rolando Tinio's Santa Juana on television was so great I had to give up my Sunday afternoon siesta. That, for a working woman, is a big sacrifice. How many men and women who work from Monday to Saturday would give up that precious Sunday afternoon nap?

Well, I did. Which speaks not for the television coverage of the stage play, but for the play itself. Santa Juana was an eye-opener. It definitely impressed on me, as nothing had ever done before, the force and power of the national language. In Rolando Tinio's Pilipino translation, George Bernard Shaw's St. Joan was compelling, alive, vibrant with humor and wit, touching. The Pilipino which came out reverberating from the darkness of the dramatically lit stage exploded with the true vitality of a people's language.

Not for this translation the heavy purity of the purists nor the gray declensions of Taglish. Rolando Tinio's Santa Juana is characterized by an unusual feel for a language that can grow, broaden, and live, without having to swallow in full or in part the phrases and idioms of a foreign language. His translations--of songs, poems, and plays--breathe (I cannot imagine a more valid word), but not of what is polluted or polluting.

Of course, part of the play's force comes from the brilliance of the performers, who delineated English and French roles in Pilipino with savvy. The monochromatic costumes (part of the atmosphere of the presentation was achieved through the interplay of shadows created by sparse and effective lighting, the black-silver-purple color scheme, and the acting) allowed nothing extraneous to the action to color the viewer's response to the power of the acting.

And here, certainly, is first-rate stage acting. Ella Luansing, the only woman in that all-male cast and tackling the principal role, glittered with her forceful characterization and her resonant voice.

But if the translations were as gripping and the acting as glittering as I say they were, what made the television coverage of Santa Juana such a ho-hum effort? Chiefly, there intrudes the realization that the coverage was not conceived by its television producers as a stage play presented for television, but only as a stage play covered by television.

When I first heard from a friend of Rolando Tinio's that Santa Juana was going to be presented on television, I had hoped that the stage play was going to be presented for television. That is, acted out on stage but filmed or taped especially for television. I expected that aside from the demands of stage, the demands of television would also be met. Cameras would be placed right on stage and would follow the performers as they moved about. A variety of camera angles would be predetermined, and cutting from one camera angle to another would be fast and crisp. The extreme close-up--television's most effective angle for a dramatic presentation of Santa Juana's intensity--would be used with audacity, and used frequently. The intimacy and immediacy of television would be retained, bolstered by the power and force of the stage.

What I got that afternoon hardly speaks for television as a medium for transmitting noteworthy but exclusive stage plays, open only to those who can afford financially and physically to be present, to a greater audience. The sound was bad, the camera shots were stereotyped and much too aloof from the action, and the tape used was very audibly a much-used one.

When will the gods of government television ever realize the potential--and feel the satisfaction--of bringing into our home screens a really good television presentation of a really good stage play? And please, not on a Sunday afternoon.

-- NBT

No title in original published column

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